Calm Waters Off Baja California

Friday, April 11, 2003



Hello to all our friends and family -- 

After rocketing down the coast of California at hull speed, we are semi-becalmed in poster-paint blue waters about four hundred miles off Baja California.  Looking at the chart, it almost seems as though we have been in the same place for about three days, but of course that isn't true.  In the last 24 hours we've come more than 90 nautical miles.  With the flat seas and minimal winds, we are able to have more elaborate meals and sit down together at the table.  Previously, meals have been stand-up affairs, with everyone braced against a bulkhead, eating a one-course, one-pot meal.  Really, though, we have no complaints.  We've had a chance to hoist the storm sails and take photographs of how they should be rigged.  (See photo above, showing the bottom of the trysail, above the furled main) 

Tonight we joined the "Pacific Seafarers Net" which is a ham radio roll-call and chat-fest.  Several land-based hams take information from a number of boats, and keep track of everyone.  If someone doesn't check in for several evenings in a row, they will alert the Coast Guard, passing on the information they have.  Tonight we heard from cruisers in Panama, at the equator, and in the Marquesas.  Nobody very near us (at least that we could hear). 

We've spent a lot of time fussing around with our sails and autopilots.  The wind (such as it is) keeps changing direction and force, which means that whatever sails and courses we set are wrong as soon as we're done setting them!  Our first autopilot is "Uncle Otto" which is electronic, an electricity hog, and computes the course from the GPS and magnetic compass.  As such, he does a very good job.  We try not to use "Uncle Otto" too much, because of the electricity drain.  The other alternative is "Jeeves", our pet name for the Monitor windvane.  Jeeves is a Rube Goldberg-looking contraption on the back of the boat -- a collection of stainless steel tubes, pulleys, ropes, gears and shock cord, with a plastic windvane and a stainless steel rudder.  Even though I've had it explained to me in great detail, I still have very little concept how it can possibly work.  In fact, in light winds, it doesn't work too well.  Sometimes we set Jeeves, and he seems to be performing adequately, but the moment you turn your back, we're wandering off in some other direction.  (In his defense, I have to say he does work well in stronger winds). 

How did Jeeves get his name?  When Reggie Good and Barbara Bates were with us, going down the coast of Oregon, we watched an episode of Jeeves and Wooster -- a BBC rendition of some of the PG Wodehouse stories.  Reggie and Barbara had never seen the show, and were delighted.  It traces the fictional history of British rich boy Bertie Wooster, and his unflappable, discreet and very clever butler, Jeeves.  So the next day we were discussing what we should name the Monitor, since Uncle Otto already had a name.  Reggie said, "What would you call something that does your every bidding, but sometimes seems to have a mind of its own?"  I'm not sure whether he already knew the answer when he asked the question, but everyone present said, nearly simultaneously, "Jeeves!"


Yesterday was the grand laundry experiment.  Or perhaps I should say the BEGINNING of the grand laundry experiment.  Months ago, I spotted the review in Practical Sailor of the "Wonder Clean" -- a little plastic barrel with a tight sealing lid and a hand crank. 


I found one for sale in Lehman's Non-Electric Catalog, and talked Craig into the idea.  Well, let me tell you, it's a LOT of work.  First there's the issue of heating the water (in the sunshower plastic bags).  Full sun helps.  Didn't have that until yesterday afternoon, so the water wasn't ready until about 5:00 p.m.  Then, it takes lots and lots of water to rinse out the amount of detergent they suggested.  Between each rinse, I ran the clothes through our handy-dandy wringer.  Finally, four rinses later the clothes seemed more-or-less soap free.  That was load one.  Repeat for load two.  I still have loads three and four to contend with.  This could be a full-time occupation!   (For more about laundry see our FAQ page.  For a detailed explanation of how another cruiser takes care of laundry, click here.)

We're evidently going to have this calm and peaceful (read windless) weather for a couple of more days, before we start to catch the trade winds.  The calm makes us slightly nuts, but at the same time it's very peaceful.  We've had pleasant, relaxing conversations, and we're starting to feel like a family.  Last night we watched the DVD of the first Horatio Hornblower episode.  Some of the scenes had quite a lot of water motion in them - rocking, or pictures of waves.  That taken together with the rocking we were experiencing at the same moment live was rather unnerving.  They show poor Horatio climbing the mast, and looking down, and it almost calls to mind some of those seasick episodes we had off the coast of Oregon! 

We have little idea about what's happening in the world, except we've heard several references to soldiers pulling down statues of Saddam Hussein.  I'm not sure whether to be glad or mortified that we haven't heard more.  We seem very distant from all that, in our little 44 feet of civilization in the middle of the ocean.  But I've gotten our book of broadcasts on shortwave radio, and I may try looking for a BBC, NPR or VOA broadcast tomorrow. 

Best wishes to all -- 

Barbara & Craig Johnston

S/V Sequoia

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